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Votes

Reduced Korean Church OK'd

Supervisors approve both phases, more parking, less seats.

The Korean Central Presbyterian Church (KCPC) didn't get everything it wanted. But it got what it wanted most of all: Approval to build a large, new church in Centreville.

DURING A two-hour public hearing Monday night, it seemed as if all 4,500 members of the church were packed into the standing-room-only meeting room of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. And 100 more had spilled over into an adjoining room.

They cheered and applauded every positive comment made about their church. And at the end, when they received the board's unanimous blessing, they stood up and gave the supervisors a thunderous, standing ovation.

Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), who made the motion for approval, thanked the church elders for working with everyone throughout the 15 months KCPC has fought for the go-ahead to build a place of worship here.

"It was a long and hard process, but we wanted to do it right," he said. "And it's going to be a wonderful asset to the community."

KCPC has been in Vienna for 32 years, but outgrew its facility and purchased 80 acres in Centreville, along Route 29, next to Bull Run Elementary. However, since it's environmentally sensitive land, the church needed to obtain a special-exception permit from the county before it could relocate there.

Proposed was a 205,000-square-foot place of worship. Phase one, 175,000 square feet, would consist of a 2,000-seat sanctuary with a rectory, 500-seat chapel, private school for grades K-2 and nursery school. Phase two would be another 30,000 square feet for more office and educational space. (A future child-care center is also planned).

But during numerous land-use meetings here, local residents objected to the environmental and traffic problems such a huge church could cause. So on Jan. 26, the county Planning Commission said KCPC could build here, provided it have 400 less seats — 1,700 in the sanctuary and 400 in the chapel — thereby reducing phase one to 173,000 square feet. It also stipulated 157 fewer parking spaces and no phase two.

AT MONDAY'S hearing before the Supervisors, church members and other supporters made impassioned pleas, extolling KCPC's virtues and telling why it would make a great neighbor. Then Frey made his motion, upholding the smaller number of seats, but leaving it up to the church to decide how it wants to apportion them.

So, for example, if it wants 500 in the chapel, it could only have 1,600 in the sanctuary. However, Frey reinstated the parking spaces to allow the 1,180 the church planned — 982 paved and 198 on grass. And for now, just phase one was OK'd.

Representing the church, attorney Lynne Strobel said KCPC originally asked for a much-larger, 286,000-square-foot facility. "The applicant has been diligently working to address the land-use issues," she said. "The plan before you today [April 3] has undergone many design changes and compromises."

But, she said, "The chapel must contain 500 seats. It doesn't make sense to make [KCPC] fit in something smaller than it has today. And the sanctuary must allow room for growth."

Strobel said KCPC has agreed to work with other churches along Route 29 to coordinate their service times. And no regular, evening church services will begin, weekdays, between 4:30-7:30 p.m.

Then came a slew of speakers, most of whom were in favor of the church. Member Hyung Sohn said the current sanctuary has just 500 seats, so KCPC must hold six weekly services — five in Korean and one in English.

"We proceeded in good faith to design a facility ... in keeping with the county's [rules]," he said. "And we reduced our plans in response to the concerns of the community. We have 57-percent open space and added grass parking in place of some of the paved parking."

Pastor Danny Ro called KCPC a family church. "We worship together on Sunday and share our lives and fun times together," he explained. "A sanctuary that seats less than 2,000 cannot accommodate our needs. We ask you to make our dreams come true."

Samuel Ham said he understands that everyone's concerns need to be weighed. "Some people may say, 'Not in my backyard,' but this backyard is 80 acres," he said. "This decision will affect thousands of people who are your neighbors and live, work and vote in Fairfax County."

CENTREVILLE RESIDENT Jane Luba couldn't attend Monday's hearing, so someone else read her words. She said that, since she bought her house, most of the large tracts of land have been rezoned for townhouses and condos. "Traffic has become unbearable, and new schools were needed for overcrowding," she wrote. "How can you oppose a church which would have zero impact on our schools?"

Fairfax's James Lim, a Marine who spent seven months in the war zone in Iraq, said KCPC sent e-mails and packages "to all 14 of us from KCPC who were in Iraq. Our church's prayers gave us comfort and confidence. I believe I experienced many miracles there and came home safely because of them."

Young Ho Chang, former head of the county's Department of Transportation, said he reviewed the traffic study KCPC commissioned and concluded that the Route 29/Pleasant Valley Road intersection and Route 29 and the church entrance will function adequately even with the church traffic.

"When I-66 breaks down, Route 29 breaks down, so the key is to improve I-66," said Chang. "And improvements are already underway and planned for the near future which will help Route 29, so the impact of our church will be mitigated."

Retired pastor Won Sang Lee, KCPC's senior pastor for 26 years, called the church's application "more than reasonable," according to county land-use regulations. Added Lee: "If we are denied, we will become homeless people."

Building-committee member Young Kwon noted that "the total density of the five existing churches in the Route 29 Corridor is the same as KCPC's. And on special occasions, the church will open its facility to other [entities] in the community."

The Rev. Hyung Suk Lee, who also served on KCPC's pastoral staff, said the area's growth has created a need for large churches "providing vital and important services within their own community. We do more than marry and bury [people]. And it would be a shame — bordering on religious intolerance — to deny this congregation."

Harold Pyon read comments from Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-11th) praising the church. "I'm convinced they'll continue to be good neighbors in Centreville, as they have been in Vienna," he wrote. And Frey said the Rev. Rob Bromhead of Centreville Presbyterian Church, across the street from the property, also supports KCPC's application.

VIRGINIA RUN'S Greg Richter said he and his neighbors oppose it because what's planned is "too big for the site." Now that Centreville Presbyterian has opened along Route 29 and youth sports will be played on the nearby Fields of Dreams, those activities will also add traffic, he said.

But Centreville business owner Joe Fernandez said he's a strong advocate of quality-of-life issues, and "KCPC, with its broad range of family and youth activities, is clearly that. Over 17 percent of Centreville's population is Asian-American, most of it Korean. Based on that, I believe Centreville is the right home for KCPC. Every family deserves to have a home in its community, and this large family needs a large home."

Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D) said he received 41 letters about this matter. Frey said he got 1,500 in support of KCPC; 500 were from the Centreville area. He said 125 letters, mostly from Virginia Run, were opposed.

Frey said this proposal has been scrutinized by many entities and meets the requirements of the county's Comprehensive Plan. He said the main issue is "a perception of size" and stressed that other churches along Route 29 are building in phases, resulting in "significantly more" density. For instance, he said, nearby Centreville Baptist is "approved for 1,700 seats — on considerably less space."

"Route 29 is not going to be good until the Battlefield Bypass is built, and most of the traffic is off-peak," said Frey. "[So] I do not know what basis we'll deny it on."

He agreed with the Planning Commission that 2,100 seats is a "more appropriate number," but said it should be up to the church to "put the seats where they want to" between the sanctuary and chapel." However, he reinstated all 1,180 parking spaces KCPC proposed. Added Frey: "The applicant has come a long way, the congregation is looking forward to a new home and I move that we approve the special-exception permit."

SECONDING the motion, Springfield District Supervisor Elaine McConnell said, "Churches that are large now support us best. We're no longer a little village, and we need larger churches for less traffic."

"It's important that we allow people to have their houses of worship," said Connolly. "And sometimes, government needs to get out of the way to allow this to happen. This is a vibrant community — people who care deeply about their church and their community, and it's a privilege to support them in their new endeavor."

Afterward, attorney Strobel said she was pleased "that this came to a successful resolution." Pastor Ro was glad it was over. "I'm a little disappointed; we wanted a little more space," he said. "But we'll accommodate as best we can. We thank all the supervisors and community members who showed their support."